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trail of tears

Snelson Brinker House - Trail of Tears

The Trail of Tears, painting by Robert Lindneux, 1942

In the harsh winter of 1837, the Brinker household bore witness to a detachment of Cherokee traveling from Charleston, Tennessee, to Indian Territory (present-­day Oklahoma). The detachment was led by U.S. Army Lieutenant B.B. Cannon and contained approximately 360 people who left their homes voluntarily in the aftermath of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.

After traveling through Tennessee, western Kentucky, and southern Illinois, the detachment crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri on November 12-­13, 1837. Their journey through Missouri was plagued with illness. Several days after passing through Caledonia, Dr. G.S. Townsend, attending physician for the detachment, advised Cannon on November 25th to suspend travel due to the overwhelming amount of sickness prevailing amongst the group.


On December 4th, the detachment broke camp and traveled eleven miles despite the wagons filled to near capacity with the sick. The following day, the weary Cherokee traveled another ten miles, passing by John Brinker’s house before resting for the night on his property and down at the Meramec River. This group of Cherokee was the first of many detachments the Brinker family bore witness to. Just over a year later an additional ten detachments consisting of just under 10,000 Cherokee followed in Cannon’s footsteps passing by the Snelson-Brinker cabin on what is now known as the Trail of Tears.

One of these detachments was conducted by Richard Taylor with the assistance of Red Watt Adair and numbered approximately 1,030 people at departure. Traveling with this detachment was the Reverend Daniel Sabin Butrick and physician William Isaac Irwin Morrow. Both men kept journals during their journey, which are among the best sources of information about the Cherokees’ experience along the Trail of Tears. Butrick was a Christian missionary to the Cherokee. Prior to removal, he worked at Brainerd Mission in present-­day Chattanooga, Tennessee, under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Both Butrick and his wife, Elizabeth, greatly opposed removal and stood in solidarity with the Cherokee as they were forcibly removed to the West.

During his journey to Indian Territory, Butrick wrote nearly every day in his journal. He commented on everything from the distance and locations traveled, to weather, to the hardships and deaths that occurred enroute, to the scenery and the people encountered along the way. Despite bouts of rain, ice, and snow, Butrick found Missouri an otherwise pleasant state. He frequently complimented the villages and towns and praised the kindness and generosity of many of the people he met. So impressed with the state, Butrick declared that “the very name [of Missouri] conveys delight to our minds.”

While the Morrow journal is the only known documentary evidence linking a Cherokee detachment to the Snelson-Brinker site, it is highly likely that other detachments sought respite at the Brinker’s homestead while enroute to Indian Territory.

Courtesy of Center for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University


Matt Parker

Snelson Brinker House - Trail of Tears - Map
Snelson Brinker House - Trail of Tears

"We, the great mass of the people think only of the love we have to our land for...we do love the land where we were brought up. We will never let our hold to this land let it go it will be like throwing away...[our] mother that gave...[us] birth."

"...Inclination to remove from this land has no abiding place in our hearts, and when we move we shall move by the course of nature to sleep under this ground which the Great Spirit gave to our ancestors and which now covers them in their undisturbed peace."

Cherokee Legislative Council
New Echota July 1830

 “I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”

– Georgia soldier on the Trail of Tears”

“However, murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music.   Murder is murder, and somebody must answer. Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile.”

― The Trail of Tears: The Forced Removal of the Five Civilized Tribes

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